Transcript: 106. The Milkshake Murder | Hong Kong

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On Monday, November 3rd 2003, 40-year-old Rob Kissel failed to show up for work. He was a high profile investment banker for Merrill Lynch, based in Hong Kong. This in itself was perhaps not enough cause for concern, but he had also missed an important conference call the night before. He had been strategising with co-workers earlier on in the afternoon and there was no way he would have missed that call.

Then he was a no-show the following morning too. Someone at Rob’s professional level, didn’t just skip out on work for no reason. His diary was booked months in advance and every minute of his day was accounted for.

Rob had lived in Hong Kong for about six years by this time. He was a New Jersey native who had completed his MBA at NYU before embarking on the career most finance students can only dream of.

His job at Merrill Lynch, Hong Kong provided his family with a life of luxury. He had married his wife, Nancy before he made his fortune. Nancy was artistic and energetic and saw their future in Hong Kong as an adventure.

But all the money in the world could not buy happiness for Rob and Nancy Kissel. Rob’s closest friends knew that there was trouble in paradise, but did not know exactly how dark things had become between the couple. When Rob disappeared, Nancy wasn’t the one to report him missing. Instead, a friend from work informed police that no one had seen Rob for four days. And his wife did not seem to care that he was gone…

>>Intro Music

Rob Kissel started dating Nancy Keeshin in 1987 in New York, and before long they moved in together. Rob came from a loving New Jersey family and Nancy was an import from Michigan. They met while on holiday at a singles resort in the Caribbean. In fact, they met on a nudist beach and he said to her:

“I’ll bet you look great with clothes ON.”

Rob was one of three children and when his dad’s business took off, the family lived comfortably. They had a large home and owned a second property in Vermont, and they loved hitting the slopes together as a family. Nancy’s parents divorced, and she had a half-brother. She always felt somewhat alone and abandoned emotionally, but when she met Rob Kissel, she felt safe and taken care of. In 1989, after living together for two years, they decided to get married.

Nancy had a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in design, but soon realised that her husband’s drive was greater than hers. She was fun-loving and creative while he was level-headed and ambitious. For a while, Nancy supported them with her job at Caliente Cab Co, while Rob finished his Master’s degree in finance at NYU.

Rob Kissel’s future seemed to be paved in gold. He graduated in 1991 and took his first job at Lazard Frères in New York. After five years, he moved to Goldman Sachs, a move that would change his entire life. A fantastic opportunity arose and Rob could not turn it down. In 1997, he was offered a job as vice president of Goldman Sachs’ Asian Special situations group in Hong Kong. Together with his wife and their two children, they relocated to ‘The Pearl of the Orient’. It was a great adventure for them all, a lifestyle vastly different from their life in New York. The children all attended Hong Kong International School.

Hong Kong is a vibrant city of about 7.5 million people living in an area of about 425 square miles. It has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, with the second-highest number of billionaires of any city in the world. There is a large inequality when it comes to income, with many residents working as cleaners, drivers, servants and staff to the high rollers.

The Kissel family lived in the upmarket Parkview private housing estate, along with many expats, some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. It boasts a clubhouse, spa facilities, restaurants and leisure activities. It is located in the green heart of the Tai Tam Country Park, south of Hong Kong city centre. It is spacious and luxurious with breathtaking views.

Nancy loved flaunting her husband’s money. Even in New York she was known as a big spender. She supported him while he was studying, and it was a smart investment – it came back tenfold. Rob’s friends reckon he was more focussed on climbing the corporate ladder than earning the big bucks – it was an added bonus, of course, but to Nancy, the money was a big thing.

Rob did extremely well at his job and had a lot of respect in his field. In 2000, he was offered another position, this time by Merrill Lynch. He was appointed as head of distressed assets business in Asia (outside of Japan). Needless to say, Rob spent most of his time at work and Nancy did not see him all that often. She personified what locals in Hong Kong call a Tai Tai, a spoilt rich-man’s wife.

By that time, the couple had had their third child, but with housekeepers and nannies in tow, Nancy had a lot of spare time. She had an abundance of time and money and found herself without much to do. She played tennis and started a photography business on the side, but still wanted to do more. So Nancy volunteered her time at the children’s school and decided to be as involved as she could with the synagogue.

She later said that, with Rob’s new job came new pressures, and he started using drugs to cope. He became controlling of her, as she had so much idle time away from him. He kept tabs on her five credit cards and became volatile.

In 2003, Nancy and the children went back to the US to escape the deadly SARS pandemic. Many American expat families did the same – the husbands stayed behind in their high-profile jobs, while the wives and children left indefinitely. They stayed at their home in Vermont for months. Nancy purchased a home theatre system, as they needed some entertainment to pass the time. A TV-repairman visited the home to install the system and Nancy was drawn to him. His name was Michael Del Priore. A candid conversation turned into friendship and soon a fiery love affair ensued.

Michael was twice-divorced and lived in a trailer park. Nancy lived in a gilded cage. He listened to her, she showered him with affection and expensive gifts. Rob never wanted Nancy to get a tattoo, but Michael took her to have her children’s names in Chinese characters tattooed onto her shoulder.

Rob had a feeling something was going on behind his back, and he wasn’t going to stand for it. He hired a private detective, New York based Frank Shea to keep an eye on his wife. Frank managed to install spyware on Nancy Kissel’s computer. He also watched the house in Vermont and called Rob when he saw Michael sneaking in through the back door. Frank said Rob then called Nancy, after which Michael quickly left the house. Here is Frank’s account:

“The male came out of the house, got in his van, and drove off. So Rob called me back at my house and he told me that he had spoken to Nancy. He didn’t let her know that the house was being watched. He just said, ‘Nancy don’t do anything stupid. We have the children. We promised each other we’d get this back together.”

Soon, at the end of summer 2003, Nancy returned to Hong Kong. However, she was still in frequent contact with Michael back in Vermont. When she flew to New York with Rob In August so he could have back surgery, Frank was asked to follow her again. While Rob was in theatre being operated on, Nancy didn’t wait at the hospital for news about her husband’s well-being. Instead, she met her lover, Michael from Vermont, at a hotel near Central Park.

Frank told Rob, and this time he was less optimistic. Again, Frank Shea’s words:

“He was broken over it. He was broken up over it. But he said ‘Well, if I can just get her out of New York and get her back home,’ he said.  ‘We can work on our marriage.”

The marriage had turned sour, but both Nancy and Rob were keeping up appearances. Rob kept busy at work and Nancy kept herself entertained by staying in touch with Michael, using a pre-paid cell phone she had purchased.

On Sunday night, the 2nd of November, a fellow expat, Andrew Tanzer, who also lived in Parkview, brought his daughter to play with the Kissel kids. He was about to leave when Nancy made them some milkshakes. It was all very cute, as the Kissel’s six-year-old daughter brought it out to them. Andrew drank it in one go, as he was in a hurry to get home. He recalled Rob doing the same. He said goodbye to his new aquaintance, it would be the last time anyone saw Rob Kissel alive.

When someone of Rob’s professional profile doesn’t show up for work, people notice immediately. Kissel also missed a vital conference call on Sunday night – something he had been preparing for with co-workers for weeks. Rob’s friend, Bryna O’Shea knew he had marital problems, so assumed he had moved into a hotel for a while. But after calling many hotels in Hong Kong, she still couldn’t find him.

She went to David Noh, vice president of Merrill Lynch, Hong Kong, who was also concerned about his colleague and friend. David made an awkward call to Nancy Kissel, who informed him that Rob was dealing with personal issues. David didn’t buy it, because if that was the case, if Rob had decided NOT to go to work for personal matters, he would most definitely had called. It was three days after Rob was last seen, when David decided there was enough reason to call police.

Police went to Rob Kissel’s apartment, where they questions his wife, Nancy. She said she had no idea where he was. Nancy did not seem too concerned about her husband’s whereabouts. She said that they had had a fight and he left. Police looked through the apartment, and although there were no obvious signs of a struggle, the officers recalled a ‘bad feeling’, like a gut instinct that something sinister had taken place.

Nancy Kissel made investigators aware of the fact that she had filed a report that very same morning, accusing her husband of assaulting her after she refused to have sex with him.

Investigators left it at that, but felt uneasy about Mrs Kissel. She wasn’t very forthcoming with information, nor did she seem too concerned about her husband’s whereabouts. They interviewed maintenance workers at Parkview. One said that Nancy had called the office the previous day and asked if they could move a carpet to her storage area. The worker said that the carpet was so heavy, it took four men to move it. One of them saw Nancy later and said to her that the rug smelled like salted fish. According to the worker, she ignored him and went into her apartment without saying a word.

Police immediately secured a search warrant and four days after Rob Kissel was last seen, they searched the Kissel’s storage space in the bowels of the exclusive Parkview building.

They discovered a rolled up Oriental rug beneath a sheet and some pillows. It had been tied up with rope and tape and inside was something bulky wrapped in plastic. On closer inspection, they saw that it was a decaying human body. Over the head was a black plastic bag. They had found Rob Kissel.

An autopsy revealed that Rob had suffered severe trauma to his head. He had been hit no less than five times with  a blunt instrument. Pathology reports also found that he had six prescription drugs in his stomach – five of which had been prescribed to Nancy Kissel in the months leading up to her husband’s murder.

Police interviewed neighbours and friends and heard about Andrew Tanzer’s visit to the Kissel home. Andrew told police about the short visit and the milkshake. He said that when he got home, he was drowsy and fell asleep on the sofa. The next day, he could not recall much of the night before, but thought he was coming down with something and didn’t give it a second thought.

Two hours after Rob’s body was discovered, at 2:40 in the morning, Nancy Kissel was arrested and charged with the murder of her husband.

Rob Kissel’s-murder was one of the most publicised criminal cases Hong Kong had ever seen. There was a mass curiosity about what happens inside the homes of the uber-rich. It was a story that had all the elements: lust, greed, revenge, murder… It was called The Milkshake Murder, a name that quickly caught on.

Nancy Kissel admitted to killing her husband, but said it was self-defense. She described Rob as a domineering, heartless man. Rob lived for his work and to maintain his high energy, used cocaine and alcohol. According to her, they had had physical altercations during arguments before. She suspected that he was actually gay and that he had sex with men when he went away on business trips. This assumption was based on the way he treated her in bed as well as gay pornography she found on his computer. This allegation was confirmed by an independent computer expert. He found a search for ‘anal sex in Taiwan’ on the Kissel family computer, days before Rob went to Taiwan on business. At the time, Nancy and the kids were in Vermont.

What the court revealed to Nancy for the first time, was that Rob also looked at HER computer. Her search history included words like ‘sleeping pills’ or ‘medication to cause heart attack’. Nancy said that those searches was for herself, she was so desperate that she had considered ending her own life. She had visited various doctors and managed to obtain prescriptions to make a lethal cocktail: Dextropropoxythene (a painkiller), Lorivan (a sedative), Rohypnol, the sleeping pill Stilnox as well as an antidepressant called Amitryptaline.

Frank Shea, the private investigator hired by Rob to keep an eye on Nancy, said that Rob had grown suspicious of his wife. He thought that she was trying to poison him by spiking his whisky with something. He habitually had a single malt when he came home. On more than one occasion, he felt unwell after having it, he felt ‘woozy and disoriented’ – quote unquote. Rob ignored the PI’s advice to have the whisky tested, because he never thought Nancy would actually do anything to harm him. He felt guilty just suggesting that she could.

Ander Tanzer, who had visited the Kissel’s on the day of Rob’s murder, gave a chilling testimony, outlining the details of what happened after he had the milkshake made by Nancy. In hindsight, it was truly sinister…

Andrew had actually asked for a glass of water, when moments later the little girl brought him ‘n bright pink milkshake. Nancy popped her head out of the kitchen, saying that it was her ‘secret recipe, inspired by Halloween’ – that was only days before. The milkshake was sweet, but heavy and tasted of bananas and crushed cookies. What neither of the men realised, was that the milkshakes were laced with sedatives.

When Andrew arrived home, he fell into a deep slumber on the couch. His wife tried to wake him up, she shouted and slapped him through the face, nothing would wake him. He eventually woke up when the phone rang. Andrew said that he acted strangely, like a baby, throwing tantrums. After dinner his hunger was insatiable and he ate three cartons of ice cream by himself. After this he went to bed and soiled himself while he was asleep. The next morning he was hazy and could hardly remember a thing.

It is fair to assume Rob suffered from the same effects. After Andrew had left, Rob played with his son, for what would be the very last time. He took a phone call from a colleague about the work conference call that evening. The colleague said Rob didn’t sound like himself. He seemed tired, sleepy.

If Rob had the same mixture as Andrew, he would have needed to lie down. He most likely went to the bedroom by himself and fell asleep on the bed he shared with his adversary. Nancy took an eight-pound lead figurine from the kitchen (that used to belong to her grandmother) and stood over her slumbering husband. She attacked him, hitting over the head, again and again – five forceful blows in total. The next day she went out and bought a rug, so she could wrap her husband’s body in it. She also bought linen and pillows and said  her cleaning lady didn’t have to bother cleaning the main bedroom.  

Nancy kept Rob’s body in the apartment for three whole days before calling the maintenance office to ask for someone to remove the carpet for her. So spoilt was she, she even had to direct staff to assist in the disposal of her husband.

In court, Nancy Kissel took the stand in her own defence, a gamble by her defence team for sure. She was no longer blonde and glamorous, a trophy wife on the arm of her successful husband. Instead the pale and demure expat had long dark hair and some people wondered if she wanted to appear more Asian to illicit sympathy from the jury. Nancy was clad in black, as if in mourning. But she was not about to pay her husband any respect. Rob was well-known in the expat community in Hong Kong, and people knew him to be driven, hard-working and ambitious. His wife painted a vastly different picture.

She went into detail about their love life, how Rob wasn’t pleased when she gained weight during pregnancies. According to Nancy, over a period of five years he raped and sodomised her frequently. She learnt to go along with it, because it hurt less. One incident was so rough, she suffered a broken rib. Although her testimony was chilling, she did not have anything to back up her allegations, no medical reports or anything.

Nancy alleged that Rob sometimes turned his anger on his children. She remembered an incident when her daughter was playing on the bed and Rob was on the phone. He pulled her by the arm, breaking it. However, the daughter’s nanny testified that the daughter broke her arm while she was playing with her sister, Rob wasn’t even home.

On the witness stand, Nancy was made to admit that she had doctored Rob’s whisky with sedatives in the past. She said she had done it to calm him down so he wouldn’t take out his anger on their children. Rob’s suspicions were confirmed.

Nancy continued her version of events that led to Rob’s death. She claimed that, ten days before the murder, she had an argument with him about the possibility of a divorce. He allegedly said to her:

“If there’s a divorce, you don’t ask for it. I’m the one who makes the money. If there’s a divorce, you don’t ask for it. I ask for it!”

On Sunday morning November 2nd, the Kissel’s went to synagogue as a family. In the afternoon she made some milkshakes for the children, but her version doesn’t mention the visit from Andrew Tanzer. According to Nancy, the children went out with the nanny in the late afternoon. Rob came to her in the kitchen and said that he had filed for a divorce and he was taking the kids. Nancy said that he was holding a baseball bat at the time and jokingly said that he needed it for protection against her.

As he turned and walked down the hallway, she followed him. She had the metal figurine from the kitchen in her hand. She shouted at him, demanding to know what was going on. She caught up with him in the hallway and their argument became physical. She pointed her hand at him, he grabbed her wrist, she tried to fight him off, but he wouldn’t let go. That’s when she spat in his face. In reaction, he slapped her across the mouth.

She said Rob then pulled her into the bedroom where he threw her onto the bed for sex. Nancy struggled to break free and crawled away, he pulled her by her legs. That is when she grabbed the figurine, that had fallen onto the floor and hit him over the head. He slumped to the floor, in shock. She was shocked too and offered to help him up, but he didn’t want her help. Instead, he was overcome with rage and picked up the baseball bat and swung it at her. She protected herself by holding the figurine in front of her face, she heard the clinging sound every time the bat hit the figurine. That is where her story ended.

When asked about the way she disposed of her husband’s body, Nancy Kissel could not offer an explanation. She said she had hardly any memory of the days following his death. She vaguely recalled driving somewhere, but could not remember going to buy the carpet that became a make-shift tomb. According to Nancy, her memory of those three days only came back in bits and pieces and she could not account for her actions.

The Prosecution strongly implied that Nancy’s lover, Michael encouraged her to end her marital misery for good. He spurred her on, knowing that, if Rob died and Nancy inherited his estate, she would go back to America with the money and he would have a prosperous future. Phone records showed multiple phone calls between them in the days before and after Rob’s death. On the 4th of November, she called Michael six times.

CCTV footage from Parkview also showed Nancy, on the day after Rob was killed, carrying a suitcase, some shopping bags and the carpet she used to dispose of her husband’s body. There was no sign of injury or that she was hurting in any way. She had visited a doctor, and the doctor testified that Nancy complained of ‘total body pain’, but there was no evidence of injury anywhere.

Forensic experts concluded that the baseball bat found in the Kissel home, was never used to hit Nancy. It did not have Nancy OR Rob’s DNA on it. Also, after testing both the bat and the figurine, it was ruled that the items never made contact with each other. That meant that Nancy’s story of protecting her face with the figurine was not true.

Because she saw herself as the victim that acted in self-defence, Nancy pleaded not guilty. On the 1st of September 2005, after deliberating for eight hours, the jury ruled that Nancy Ann Kissel was guilty of the murder of her husband Rob. She was given a life sentence.

Nancy Kissel’s conviction was overturned in 2010, due to legal errors and she was released. Prosecution moved quickly to request a retrial. After a short stint out of prison, she found herself back in court.

During the appeal, her defence team said that, on the night of the murder, Rob Kissel told his wife that he was planning on filing for divorce and seeking custody of the children. After years of domestic abuse, this last straw for Nancy. She pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter, citing that she was provoked.

The prosecution hit back, showing evidence of Nancy’s affair with Michael and showed that Nancy was the one who intended on leaving. But she realised that she would be better off with Rob dead, as she stood to inherit his 18 million US Dollar estate. A jury of seven women and two men found Nancy Kissel guilty once again on the 25th of March 2011. Again, she was sentenced to life in prison.

This case is a true tragedy, of two people who should probably have gone their separate ways years before. Because Rob was no longer alive, he could never answer for the deeds his wife accused him of. Many people of sceptical of Nancy Kissel’s claims of domestic abuse and believe that she simply wanted out of the marriage. But if she was a victim of domestic abuse who never shared her story with anyone but her lover in Vermont, is there any sympathy for her?

Kissel is serving her sentence at the Tai Lam Institute for Women. No criminal charges were ever brought against Michael Del Priore for his role in Rob’s murder. He has since moved on and married his third wife. He was inundated by love letters from Nancy, to the point that he wrote the warden of Tai Lam and asked to stop Nancy from sending any more.

American officials in Hong Kong refused to get involved in Nancy’s court case. Their only concern was the children: Elaine, June and Reis. First, they were sent to Nancy father back in the US, as was Rob’s wish in his will. When it proved to be too much of a challenge for the ageing Ira and his wife, Nancy’s half-brother stepped in to take care of them. But when the responsibility proved to be too big, Rob’s brother Andrew and his wife Hayley agreed to take them.

Andrew sent a private jet to collect the children from Nancy’s half-brother. He invoiced Rob’s estate for $8,000. He kept on expanding his home and going out of his way to provide for his brother’s children, eventually charging more than $170,000 to Rob’s estate.

As Hayley and Andrew headed towards a divorce, Hayley offered to raise Elaine, June and Reis along with her two daughters. Rob’s sister, Jane stepped in and was granted custody of Rob and Nancy’s children. They went to live with their aunt on Mercer Island, Washington. The family felt that it was for the best, as Andrew had his eye on his brother’s entire estate and would probably not have stopped taking money for personal gain, instead of using or investing it for Rob’s children.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Andrew, who had been found guilty of embezzlement and was going through a bitter divorce, was also murdered. On Monday morning, the 3rd of April 2006, the crew of a moving truck discovered his body in the basement of his opulent Greenwich, Connecticut residence. He was slumped on a chair with his shirt pulled up over his head, his hands were bound behind his back and he had been stabbed in the back. There was copious amount of blood in the basement, signs of a violent death. Police were notified and the victim was identified as Andrew Kissel. Because he had swindled many people out of millions of dollars over the years, the pool of possible suspects was pretty big.

His murder was never solved, but investigators favoured the theory that it was the Kissel family’s Man Friday, Carlos Trujillo. He played many roles, from driver to housekeeper and probably Andrew’s only friend. As Andrew was about to go to federal prison for fraud, the theory was formed that he had convinced Trujillo to end his life. He had substantial life insurance, but if he had killed himself, his daughters would not receive anything.

However, there was not enough evidence to charge Trujillo. And if one considers the brutality of the scene, it is not likely that it was a suicide-request. There was also a story that Andrew was a government informant and had information that could incriminate a powerful person. Either way, his murder remains unsolved.

The Kissel brothers were bright, successful and wealthy. From the outside in, it would have appeared that they had it all. But in both cases, there was a storm brewing behind closed doors.

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